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Quay Dash Is Bridging the Gap Between New York City’s Rave and Rap Scenes

Her debut EP 'Transphobic' is a response to the psychic and physical violence that's a daily threat against her as a trans woman of color.
All photos and styling by Pierre Davis

Daylight is quickly fading in Quay Dash's sparsely furnished Lower East Side apartment on a humid Tuesday evening. She just self-released her debut EP, Transphobic on September 17, and its five boisterous tracks confirm what those who've followed her rise through New York's club scene over the last few years already know—that she's quickly become one of the city's most exciting young rappers. A fuzzy, nondescript house mixbuzzes from the laptop on her bed. She swings a leg atop the arm of the chair she's sitting in and explains that the mix is representative of a strange facet of her taste—that she largely feels pulled toward music without vocals. Though on her tracks she has the bravado of Nicki Minaj and the acidity of someone like The Game, in her spare time, Dash is an active hard techno and house adherent with a deep-seated love of rave culture—at least insomuch as those forms afford her shelter from the constant chatter of her daily life.


"I hear words on the street everyday," she says as she rolls her eyes exaggeratedly. "I hear people talk everyday, I hear myself every fucking day—so sometimes, it's nice to hear some shit without people on it."

The dancefloor has long been a refuge for LGBTQ people of color. Dash, who is a black trans woman, recognizes this history too, noting that her music springs more from club spaces—where "people are not going to judge me for who I am and who I want to be"—than the smoky studio setups that birth contemporary American rap music. But Dash allows herself at least a few words on her own tracks. Transphobic, as its name suggests, is a response to the barrage of verbal abuse, catcalling, harassment, psychic, and physical violence that's a daily threat against her. The EP is rooted in electronic sounds sourced from the likes of Celestial Trax and Korea's Hongsamman, and she's used those sounds to construct a five-track "fuck you" to the transphobia that still runs rampant, even in a place as progressive as New York City. In the midst of it all, her sharp flow is shockingly versatile, deftly navigating between warm keyboard arpeggiations to ice-cold square waves to drop cutting bars packed with call-outs like "Shade's On Top Down's" climactic: "Handle your bitch / You the man / You the shit / You the same motherfucker who be jamming your dick / In the next nigga booty with your hand on the tip."


"Most of my lyrics in my songs mostly speak on the troubles, the day-to-day rituals of being a trans woman… Whatever I feel at the moment," she says, alluding to the idea that her proud and vocal existence is, in a sense, the ultimate form of resistance. "[And I feel like in that way] I do represent trans women across the world and America. So I have to make sure my voice is heard."

However, despite possessing the spit than many would associate with years of practice, she didn't always have a desire to rap. In fact, aside from the Lil Kim her mom would bump, Dash says she didn't really listen to hip-hop growing up. She was too busy just being a kid, dabbling in everything from the Boy Scouts to fire-eating.

Dash grew up in New York City's foster care system, and at one point spent a significant portion of her time in a residential treatment center in the Bronx, for what she only describes as "acting up." It was an isolating experience, especially when she was surrounded by 70 boys suspicious of her "feminine aura" and a staff that would prod into her personal life by asking things like "whether I was 'bi' or 'gay'," Dash retreated to the Internet as a self-proclaimed Tumblr girl—which is where she was introduced to NYC's underground party culture.

"I was on those websites and I'd look at the images and the events and I felt wild," she says, comparing her years in the system to being "locked up." "I just wanted to go out there and be me and be where no one's going to tell me how to be," she says. "They're not going to harass me or treat me like society treats me; they're going to treat me like family. And I was right about that. I found my family; I found my friends; I found the people who want to grow with me and do shit with me that I was interested in doing."


Dash became deeply embedded within New York's nightlife scene as a remember of Contessa Stuto's party crew and artist collective Cunt Mafia—famous for helping launch local rapper Cakes Da Killa's burgeoning career. In fact, the definitive moment her her rap career began was "when I just started rapping over this beat I had used before" in an apartment belonging to Whatever 21's Brian Whatever and nightlife host extraordinaire Richard Kennedy—who, needless to say, were impressed.

"[The people in the underground club scene] have been really great mentors or advocates to some situations as far as parties being booked and hosts for parties and photoshoots," Dash says. "I have a lot of friends in the scene who want to see me doing things because they love my work they love my music. So whenever I'm not around, I'll get a message here and there like 'Quay, can you host a party? Where are you? What're you doing?' People want to see me doing things and I like having those advocates and those friends."

However, Dash places emphasis on the fact that while she still loves and respects the crew, she is no longer a part of Cunt Mafia. It was decision based on her desire to court some individual shine, as well as refocus her energies toward her art, as hanging with the party crew sometimes led her to "overdo it."

The scene was also a better place to channel her sharp tongue and razor-sharp wit, which got her "labeled as a troubled kid" back when she was in the foster care system.


"I feel like my mouth was my bad weapon and it really got me like into a lot of shit where people couldn't really take it," she explained, a sly sense of satisfaction creeping into her words. Then again, it's hard not to be smug when your "mouth" has resulted in a burgeoning rap career.

Transphobic is a particularly sharp, slap-in-the-face debut that asserts itself and its creator's existence to the fullest extent. On songs like "Wilin'," she foregrounds her identity as a trans woman in the midst of rap's typical braggadocio: "Niggas wanna pop shit…but all they really want is some dick and they cool," before interjecting "my shit is the best."

However, while Dash says she's definitively "here to speak my mind and my voice for my people," there's still the ever-present and very real fear of physical harm at the hands of transphobic bigots getting riled up by her art.

"Sometimes I do think about [getting hurt]," Dash says quietly when the conversation turns toward the 24 trans people, most of whom were trans women of color, who have been murdered so far this year. "I have a mind that goes elsewhere, and I'll be thinking, 'What if I'm performing at this place that's transphobic and they decide to pull out a gun or try to kill me?' or something." Yet, despite this inevitable, constant anxiety, Dash says that she feels like the story of her struggle transcends this all—an essential perspective left out of mainstream musical narratives for far too long.

"I want to hear actual shit to make me think. I just feel like most of the rap I hear on the radio now is for doing a bump or snorting some drugs," she sighs, before steadying herself. "[But I want the] people who aren't really acceptive of our existence…to hear about our struggles, our pain. I think that if they do hear what we do to fight to just be seen as human beings, maybe there will be some sort of acceptance."

Sandra Song is a New York-based writer. You can find her on Twitter.